Monday, August 1, 2011

Making Bouquet Garni

It's herb harvesting time, and the dry weather we're having is a good time to cut them. I like to cut my herbs in the early morning before the heat of the day so that I get the best of their essential oils and fragrance before the sun takes it out of them.

Yesterday I harvested basil and have it hung to dry. An airy place out of direct sunlight is best for drying herbs. I have an old oak wall rack that was designed as a towel rack that works perfectly. It folds away when not in use. My rack hangs over a shaded window, and since my ceilings are fairly high there is plenty of air circulation to dry the herbs quickly. I've been using this rack for over 30 years; surprising to realize that so much time has passed since we rescued it from the scrap pile at the site of an old house being torn down.

I also harvested the curly parsley yesterday; I put it on a cookie sheet in the oven (with only the pilot light on) to dry. Twenty-four hours later, it is dry and ready to be stored away.

Today I cut thyme, flat parsley, winter savory, chives, marjoram and celery leaves. I am making bouquet garni to store away for winter use. Bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs used to flavor cooking. The combination considered "classic" is thyme, bay leaf and parsley, but you can create any combination you like. I've made several different ones this morning, the classic along with combinations of the other herbs I harvested.

It is simple to make a bouquet garni. Pick fresh herbs, wash and pat them dry with a clean towel, then pick and choose a combination to suit your taste. I like winter savory, celery, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf for stews and beef or venison, and celery, thyme, parsley, bay and marjarom for poultry dishes. I will make some with rosemary too, for beef and venison--that combination will be rosemary, parsley and bay. Today I am cooking rice with bay, winter savory and parsley to serve with chicken for tonight's dinner.

It takes just a sprig of each herb, and a leaf of bay, for each bouquet. You can put the herbs into cheesecloth and tie with string, or just tie the bundles together. To differentiate between the kinds you have created, you can tie them with different colored strings or ribbons--red for bundles best suited for beef, for example, pink for chicken, etc. Once your bouquets are made, hang them to dry as above, then store in a dark, dry place until needed. They do look pretty hanging in the kitchen, though! Just be aware that they will lose color and potency if exposed to light for any length of time. I have seen wreaths made of bundles of bouquets, and these are very pretty--again, they will lose some flavor and color, but if you're not worried about that, a wreath is a fragrant addition to the kitchen.

To dry multiple bundles, suspend them from a ribbon or piece of string or rope in a dry, airy place that is out of direct sunlight, as I described above. You can also put the bouquets in paper bags, 2 or 3 to a bag, and hang them like that to preserve even more color.

A simple way to dry multiple bouquets is to suspend them from a coathanger--I used a metal hanger and safety pins to hang the bundles; it's a little tricky to keep them in place! It might be easier to secure each bundle to the coathanger with a little piece of tape.

To use, suspend the bundle into the cooking pot or just drop it into the pot; remove it when the recipe you are making is done. Some people like to tie their bundles into cheescloth to assure no pieces of herbs get into the food being cooked. I just drop mine into the pot and fish it out when it's time. You could also make a hanger from a paper clip and use that to suspend your bouquet into the cooking pot. Whatever method you sue, be sure to remove the bouquet when you're finished cooking so that no one gets a surprise on their plate.

Back to the kitchen. There is still a pile of herbs waiting for me.



Granny Sue -- Nothing like herbs to flavor a dish. I like your combinations. I'm rather a "just throw it in" kinda person. Your herb garden is so abundant and beautiful. -- barbara

A Vintage Green said...

I always wanted to know how to collect, dry and store herbs - and never knew what made up a fresh bouquet garni. I am going to print your post today so I don't forget - and I am going to go out first thing tomorrow and 'harvest' a bit of what I grew this year. Thank you.

Ellie said...

Mmmm...I love fresh herbs. Going out to the balcony to pick some basil & chives.

momalizzie said...

This was so full of information. I don't have alot of space but I do have coat hangers and ribbons. Thanks for this advise, it will NOT go to waste...and neither will my herbs!

Granny Sue said...

Dot Griffin, a dear friend who passed away some years ago, taught me to make these. She wrote a book called Let's Hear It for Herbs and I learned a lot from her. I think about Dot every time I pass the Indian mound at St. Mary's, WV. She would be pleased to know I passed her knowledge on.

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